Catching Up With….Wendell Avery
This writer caught up with former Savannah State football coach Wendell Avery last week.
Avery, who turned 59 on October 20th, spent two years as the Tigers head coach. The Corpus Christi, Texas native compiled a 13-9 record during the 1995 and ‘96 seasons. In his first year, SSU had a 7-4 mark on a team that produced seven all conference players. The Tigers went 6-5 in his second year. That squad had six All-SIAC players including Britt Henderson who was named an All American. Avery’s tenure was part of a stretch that saw Savannah State have nine straight winning seasons (1988-96). Before taking over as the head coach, Avery served as the SSU offensive coordinator in 1994.
Avery played his college ball at Minnesota where he was a three-year starter at quarterback (1977- 79). Following college he played professionally in the CFL and the now defunct USFL.
Before coaching at SSU, Avery spent time at Macalester, Winona State and Alabama A&M. After leaving Savannah State, he worked at Fort Valley State in 1998 and spent two seasons (1999-2000) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an offensive assistant working under his college teammate Tony Dungy.
When asked what was he doing these days he replied that he was currently living in the Atlanta area and teaching at Cross Keys High School. He went on to add that “I have been working as a consultant to Montreal Alouettes of the CFL and Chicago Bears most recently with quarterback play. In addition, I assist my son Quincy Avery, the premier quarterback trainer in the Midwest, South, and Southeast. He’s on the coaching staff with TV analyst Trent Dilfer and ESPN Elite 11. We are based in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Avery states that he has good memories during his time in Savannah.
“First and foremost what a beautiful city for a university! My daily drives into work from the islands was breathtaking and memorable. The rich history and tradition of the city and university is what stays with me.”
He adds that he continues to keep in contact with former SSU players and says that he has known the current Tigers head coach when Wilson was working at Alabama A&M.
“With the advent of social media, I’ve had so many former student athletes reach out and keep me abreast of current events with their families and SSU. I am very familiar with the (current) head coach (Earnest Wilson). I have known him since 1995, met him at Alabama A&M and we have continued to stay in touch along with Mike Wallace who was on my staff.at SSU.”
The landscape of college athletics is changing and one of the topics that often comes up is should athletes be paid?
“I truly believe stipends are necessary. There are so many limitations on what student athletes can and can’t do, but not only that, people don’t realize the year round commitment/ demands of a scholarship athlete. Even if they wanted to work there would not be enough time in the day,” says Avery.
Athletics at historically black schools are also changing. Avery added his thoughts on the subject matter.
“I think the landscape of HBCU’s has changed so much and will continue to do so. The demographics of of the HBCU has changed significantly in terms of them being much more diverse. As the coaching staff’s, athletes, and schools continue to become more diverse I think that you will see a product much more similar to predominately white institutions, albeit lessor talent but competitive.”
He went on to add, “personally, I would like to see a HBCU playoff system that would also include D-2 schools. When I was there, the Sheridan Polls ranked all HBCU’s (D-1AA /D- 2). I would love to see the top 8 schools in a playoff system that would include all schools . l feel it would generate more interest and hopefully more revenue.”
“Perhaps have the Bayou Classic get permission from NCAA to have that “kickoff” the NCAA Football Season before any other game, or play close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a celebration of a Black College Football Hall of Fame being created (if not one already) and celebrated.
Those who follow Tiger athletics know that SSU football has fallen on hard times and hasn’t had a winning season since 1998. There has also been a lot of turnover among presidents, athletic directors, coaches and players. We asked Avery to give his opinion on what must SSU do to succeed in D-I
“If in fact you want to compete on a D-I level, the monies and commitment from administration must be there. If you are not willing to have the same amount of scholarships and budget in place as your competition it will always be an uphill climb. The toughest pill to swallow is the demoralizing of the school and team spirit for a payday.
In closing, Avery said that he has had something on his chest for a long time and wanted to make his feelings known.
“There is one issue that bothers me to date. Upon accepting the job I was given the directive to get scholarships reduced and back in NCAA compliance. In order to do so, my staff and I had to reduce every seniors’ scholarship at least 25% so that we could honor the incoming freshmen who were awarded scholarships. That hurt me to no end and I want to apologize to those seniors that hung in there with us. I want to thank Frank Ellis for a wonderful opportunity. We were on our way to building something special there.”